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  • Josep M. Carandell discovers signs of Masonic Gaudí at the Park Güell

    Park Güell is full of signs which show that Gaudí and his patron, Eusebi Güell, were members of a Masonic lodge. This is the thesis of the book "Park Güell. Utopia de Gaudí," which Josep M. Carandell recently published.

    For years, Carandell (Barcelona, 1934), who was raised in a house across the street from the Pedrera, has studied the life and work of the brilliant architect from Reus. So far the author has published books on the Pedrera and the Sagrada Familia, and he is currently preparing a monograph about the architect, which will bring forward more information about Gaudí's supposed membership in a Masonic lodge. In addition, the year 2000 will see the premiere of the opera Gaudí (for which Carandell wrote the libretto, with music by Joan Guinjoan) at the Liceu.

    The book about the Park Güell, recently published by the Triangle/Postals publishing house, is a detailed description of Gaudí's famous monument, illustrated with photographs by Pere Vivas. The thread of Carandell's text, however, is that the construction of the park, funded by patron and industrialist Eusebi Güell from 1910-14, was much more than a project to build a park-colony in which 40 houses would be built for around 400 inhabitants. The park contains numerous iconographic elements that indicate that both the architect and his sponsor belonged to a Masonic lodge, and that the very park was the place where its members lived and met.

    The basis of this theory, explains Carandell, is found in the lyric poem Garraf, by Picó i Campanar, Güell's secretary, which speaks of the "Angel Labor" - an element of clear Masonic connotations - and constantly uses the symbolism of this secret fraternity.

    "On the other hand, in an inscription on an outdoor column in the park, Gaudí placed the words alaba/por, anagram of labor and paa," continues explaining Carandell. "Paa, in a Masonic manual from the last century, means boardinghouse. Thus, the park could be a casa de labor; in other words, the meeting place of a lodge that would be denominated Labor."

    Thus, Güell, Gaudí, Picó i Campanar, and the architect's assistants, Francesc Berenguer and Josep M. Jujol (who would be added later) would form part of this group. The word labor often stands out in works by Jujol. The group, however, was not at all orthodox. "They juggled elements of masonry with elements of Catholicism, so they were not orthodox in either group. In fact they were ecumenists avant-la-lettre. From masonry, they took the philanthropic spirit, of which Güell is a good example, and the spirit of initiation, secretism and silence of these groups. From Catholicism, they took the concepts of love, sacrifice and belief in God.

    The crosses in the park, as well as those found on other buildings by Gaudí, such as the Casa Batlló or even the Sagrada Familia, "have nothing to do with Christian crosses" and are closer to Masonic symbols. Another element of Masonic iconography is a feminine figure, popularly known as the Bugadera, which is found on one of the pillars of one of the porticos providing access to the park's Theatre plaza. The iconography of this figure bears a great resemblance with representations of the Masonic Sister - that is, the generalization of the few women who were able to enter the lodges - that appear in photographs and drawings from the turn of the century. Elements such as the axe - which the masons identify with the value of work - are additional examples of Gaudí's group's ascription to masonry.

    "The masons had incorporated doctrines which through the centuries had become diluted, such as astronomy, hermetism or esotericism. This explains Gaudí's taste for incorporating esoteric and zodiac elements into his work," affirms the writer.

    A Masonic temple

    Carandell denies that the object of Park Güell was to build a colony of dwellings, as has been explained. "I don't believe that they were intended to be dwellings. In addition, the layout of the three houses which are in the park - the Güell, Gaudí and Trias houses - is very significant. The three houses are situated in the form of a right angle, another Masonic symbol. The excuse that was made for not building the houses was that nobody wanted to go live in that area, which is difficult to believe because it was already a privileged part of the city and the price of the lots was reasonable. What I believe is that they wanted to be alone, in their temple."

    Carandell vindicates a profoundly eclectic Gaudí with a multitude of facets: a man of his time but forerunner of tendencies, a symbolist, a naturalist and a great mathematician.

    A very peculiar candidate for sainthood

    If in reality, as Josep M. Carandell claims, Gaudí was a mason, what sense is there in the desire to beatify the architect? Traditional masonry and Catholicism have always been two incompatible doctrines, even though the group that Gaudí belonged to maintained their belief in God and was very heterodox. The author of Park Güell: Gaudí's Utopia has already come out publicly against the artist's beatification. According to Carandell, the image of the practically penitent Gaudí, taken from his most famous photographs, correspond to the last year of his life.

    "The group that is driving for beatification, with support of the Catalonian bishops, forgets that before being old Gaudí was also young. On the other hand, in the declarations and writings of the architect, which form a total of 300 pages, it is verified that allusions to religion are minimal," says Carandell.

    To all that, it should be added that the architect's character, says the writer, based on declarations by those who knew him, was very far from what a saint should be. "They thought that Gaudí was egocentric, prideful and bad-tempered."

    Montse Frisach
    Published in "Avui" newspaper. Barcelona, Saturday September 5, 1998.

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